WHAT do you think of when you hear the words ‘‘human trafficking’’?
Children, innocent, poor and uneducated, from that vague Asia-Pacific region, who have been tricked or forced into servitude, marriage or sex slavery?
It’s true, that is the demographic most at risk. And that is indeed the fate of many of the 1.2million children trafficked every year.
But if you live in Australia, chances are human trafficking does not concern you. Unless, of course, you have confused it with ‘‘people smuggling’’ – a term Australians have become intensely familiar with over the past 15 years.
And that is because we think the insidious, multibillion-dollar industry that literally deals in the trade of people doesn’t affect us. That living in the developed world somehow makes us immune to its tendrils of suffering and misery. And we dismiss it because, incredibly, for an issue plaguing millions of our fellow human beings, it is still difficult to put a human face on.
It’s also complex, with a number of contributing factors, and difficult to quantify because of the hidden nature of crimes.
But if we think it doesn’t happen here, we are wrong.
The stain of human trafficking touches every country.
Australia is primarily considered a destination country for victims trafficked from east Asia, south-east Asia and eastern Europe, particularly China, Korea and Thailand.
The trade is fuelled by a lack of women in Australia prepared to work in prostitution, according to Australian NGO Project Respect. The other causes are ‘‘customer’’ demand for women seen as compliant and who will accept higher levels of violence.
Reliable estimates are hard to come by, but Project Respect estimates up to 1000 victims are currently under debt bondage – a practice described by the United Nations as a form of ‘‘modern-day slavery’’.
Over the past 10 years, 247 suspected victims of human trafficking and slavery have been identified domestically by Australian authorities.
The International Labour Organisation estimated that in 2012, at least 20.9million people around the world were trapped in forced labour, of which 9.1million people had been trafficked. More than half (11.7million) of those victims were from the Asia-Pacific region.
Human trafficking represented an estimated $31.6billion of international trade per annum in 2010 and is now the fastest-growing means by which people are enslaved, the fastest growing international crime, and one of the largest sources of income for organised crime.
In fact, human trafficking is the second-largest source of illegal income worldwide, exceeded only by drug trafficking. And, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, there are even reports that some trafficking groups are switching their cargo from drugs to human beings, in a search of high profits at lower risk.
The statistics are grim and it’s hard to lose sight of the individual.
Ben Randall, an award-winning Newcastle filmmaker, had that in mind when he set off in 2013 on an epic search across Asia to bring attention to the monstrous crime of human trafficking. He was looking for 100 people he had photographed five years earlier – many of whom fell into that demographic most at risk of being trafficked – as well as two young Vietnamese girls who had been kidnapped and taken across the border to China to be sold as wives.
Passionate and knowledgeable on the subject, Mr Randall was, however, at a loss to explain why Australians generally were not concerned with the issue and why it had failed to garner adequate media attention.
‘‘It’s a very good question, because its a huge issue and its not just in Vietnam, China, Malaysia – it’s everywhere,’’ Mr Randall said.
‘‘It’s such an insidious industry, it could be happening right under your nose and people wouldn’t know about it. It definitely does deserve all the attention it gets and more.’’
More awareness is just the start, but the message must be accurate and responsible. More funding would be great, but it needs to be directed to the right place.
More education, about the global and national consequences of human trafficking, is of the upmost importance.